My Voice Media Center Helps Local Seniors Cope
Last updated 5/25/2023 at 11:15am | View PDF
As Mental Health Awareness Month, May is a time to raise awareness of and reduce the stigma surrounding behavioral health issues, as well as highlight how mental illness can affect all of us – patients, providers, families and society at large.
A local program is about to celebrate its tenth year of providing residents with a unique approach to coping with the struggles of mental illness. And while it is open to anyone ages 18 and up, most of the participants are over the age of 50.
My Voice Media Center began in 2014 and is a collaboration between the Arts Consortium, the mental health division of the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency, the California Arts Council and the Tulare County Board of Supervisors.
"This is where you can spend your time making friends and meeting new people," said Halonnah Hope Kay, project coordinator for the Visalia Arts Consortium. "We want you to just enjoy your session and your time here."
The program offers a variety of art classes, ranging from painting, guitar, drawing, printmaking, video and photo editing, as well as topics such as "art and feelings." Instructors are either professional artists or college educators who help participants learn various techniques that improve their skills. And while it is not professional therapy per se, there is a benefit that comes from expressing oneself creatively through the arts.
"Our main goal is to reduce the stigma of mental health in general, and let participants express themselves through art," Kay said. "They learn about themselves and who they want to be. And they tend to stay on that path toward recovery. But we aren't a counseling service, we aren't qualified to do that."
Art therapy began in Europe in the mid-1900s and is most often attributed to British artist Adrian Hill, who is believed to have coined the phrase "art therapy" in the 1940s. While its initial use was largely with tuberculosis patients, it has since expanded to aid in the treatment of many disorders, including mental illness.
A study to determine the effectiveness of art therapy found that one of the populations gaining the greatest benefit was the elderly.
There are about 50 participants who regularly attend My Voice Media Center classes, which are offered free of charge. Class sizes typically range from two to 15 participants. Even supporters and loved ones are able to attend, making up anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of attendees. The only requirement is that participants register to attend, and sign a code of conduct and release forms.
Unlike courses found at community colleges or adult schools, the classes have no beginning or ending date, and participants are welcome to come as often and for however long they would like. Even participation isn't required.
"We've had some come in that day and say they just needed someone to talk with and not participate that day," Kay said.
My Voice Media also has the No Stigma Speakers Bureau, where attendees can listen to the stories of those affected by mental illness, whether it is told by those struggling with a diagnosis, a family member, friend or loved one. According to the website, the bureau has trained individuals of lived and shared mental health experiences in various disciplines, alongside people from the general public. The main goal is to help diminish stigma and discrimination toward individuals with mental challenges.
"We understand caretakers need care too," said Ampelio Perez, executive director. "Although we don't require evidence of having a mental illness to participate, we ask how they have been affected by mental health. One in four people is affected by mental illness in some way. We are also in an area that is historically underfunded and underrepresented by care providers."
While the classes are not professional counseling sessions, there are opportunities for participants to schedule one-on-one sessions with a peer support specialist. Perez spoke about the path toward recovery some participants have been on.
"We've had people come in after years of having agoraphobia," he said. "They have even been coming in for years and staying on the fringe of participating. Then, sooner or later they would start collaborating and contributing."
"Our goal is to help diminish stigma and discrimination toward individuals with mental illness," according to the website. "Our passion is to transform pain into empowerment through sharing stories."
My Voice Media Center is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. To find out more, log onto http://www.myvoicemediacenter.com or call (559) 772-0001.